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Quick Setup Guide for Mac OS X

2006-10-13 21:57:09

This is how I like to set up Mac OS X. This article is a work in progress. I'll post updates from time to time.

First, install OS X Tiger (10.4) and apply all patches.

Open system preferences, and make the following adjustments:

Preference Area Settings to change
Appearance Turn off text smoothing to the maximum possible degree (choose a high number.)
Dock Make the Dock very small. You really won't be needing it much.
Turn of magnification.
Minimize using "Scale Effect": this is much faster, or appears so.
I don't like to automatically hide/show the dock, but some people do.

Security Disable automatic login
Set a master password, just in case some moron turns on FileVault. DO NOT TURN ON FILE VAULT!

Require password to wake from sleep (if you are paranoid like me).
Spotlight Spotlight is a pig. It hogs HUGE system resources and it doesn't actually work. I recommend disabling it, which I detail later in this article.
Energy Saver If you are setting up a desktop mac, you really don't want it to go to sleep, ever. So it can download patches and do other stuff while you are away. And so you can connect to it remotely. So set computer sleep to "never," and set display sleep to whatever you want, to avoid burning out your monitor and to save electricity.
Keyboard and Mouse
I crank Key Repeat Rate and Delat all the way up to the max (fast/short).
A .Mac account it worth having if you have more than one mac AND you use Address Book, Apple Mail, Calendar or Safari. For me, Address Book is the thing: a .Mac account keeps it in sync and backed up no matter what machine I am on, work or home.

Aside from that, .Mac kinda sucks.
If you have a generic home network, then you can just leave the network settings alone. I'm picky, however, and I like to be able to remotely access my machines. So I always manually assign TCP/IP addresses.

If you have a notebook Mac, the Location feature is awesome. You can save all your settings related to networking in different locations (home, work, starbucks, etc) and not have to reconfigure it every time you move around.
The Sharing tab is really more like a service control tab. If you want to share files on the network, etc. To enable SSH server (so you can log in to your mac from another machine), enable "Remote Login". To enable remote graphical access (via VNC) enable "Apple Remote Desktop" and then choose "Access Privileges" and enable VNC viewers.

If you are on an untrusted network, turn on the firewall.
For the cautious/paranoid (like me): go to "Login Options" and show users as name and password; also enable fast user switching.
Date & Time
Use apple's time server to set date and time automatically.
Software Update
check for updates daily; download important updates in the background.

Open a finder window. Navigate to Applications (on the left nav bar.) Scroll to "Utilities." Drag this icon to the navbar. Now you have a shortcut to Utilities.

Go to Utilities, drag the Terminal icon to the dock. Now you can launch a terminal when you need it.

Open a terminal. If you like tcsh, do chsh; if you like bash, do chsh bash; etc.

Enable verbose booting:

% sudo nvram boot-args="-v"

Install extra stuff that is not installed by default

X11: the X11 server is not installed by default, but it is on the OS X Tiger DVD. See additional packages and install it.

Xcode: you need this to compile any open source software. It's gcc, cvs, etc. It's on the Tiger DVD, but you should probably get the latest version from

Must-have freeware:


Adium: the Apple iChat client (an AIM client without advertising!) is pretty nice, especially the way it integrates with Address Book. But it has some annoying characteristics, the biggest of which is that you can't make the fonts smaller. So if you have a large buddy list, you can only see mayb 35 of them, depending on the side of your monitor. Adium is similar to iChat in that it is very restrained design-wise, but you can make small fonts in the buddy list. It also talks Yahoo, MSN, ICQ etc. Not that anybody uses those.

FireFox: Right? right.

Chicken of the VNC. A VNC client. Google for it. It's nice.

Emacs: Mac OS comes with emacs, but it's strictly terminal-based. If you want emacs in it's own window with full color and mouse support, either build it yourself (challenging) or get it from here:

The Gimp: (you need X11 installed to run this):

Flickr uploadr: assuming you have a Flickr account. Get it from

Yahoo! Widget Engine: Apple ripped off the idea of dashboard from Konfabulator, and ruined it completely. Get the original, now called Yahoo! Widget Engine.

Darwin Ports (now call MacPorts): this is an open source package management tool, that lets you get the latest version of the thousands of open source Unix applications. You could also use "fink" but I've always had trouble with fink getting out of sync, and I like the BSD-style simplicity if Darwin Ports. MacPorts page.


Email clients are a very personal thing. If you love Thunderbird, by all means get it for OS X. If you are an Outlook user, or have no particular allegiance, I suggest you try the Apple mail client. It's called "Mail." (Why they decided to call their web browser "Safari" instead of "Web Browser" is a mystery to me. Apple is nothing if not inconsistent, but in an annoyingly hip sort of way.) It works really well with Address Book, pretty much seemlessly autocompleting contact names that are in there. It's like Outlook, except the applications ARE separate: you don't have to launch your mail client to look up somebody's phone number.

If you don't like fat mail clients, just use gmail or whatever. I like using gmail, but I use the Apple Mail client to pop messages off. That way I can speed through the morning mail queue, but all the messages are up their on gmail for me to search through. Yeah, spotlight is supposed to search mail, but a) it sucks, b) it doesn't work, and c) it only searches stuff on one computer. I need my email on a server.

System Services

Spotlight first: it's broken and piggy. Open a terminal, "sudo emacs /etc/hostconfig" and change the SPOTLIGHT setting to -NO-

Dashboard: it's a pig, a ruined version of Konfabulator. Turn it off. In a terminal:

defaults write mcx-disabled -boolean YES

killall Dock

Postfix: I like to enable a locate mail transfer agent. The one that ships on Mac OS X by default is Postfix, and not Sendmail. It's a sign that Apple knows what they are doing. Edit /etc/hostconfig and set POSTFIX=-YES-. You can reboot, or you can do /System/Library/StartupItems/post

That's it

That's all I really think you need to do to get a Mac from opened box to tamely usable. It's really not much, when you compare what most people do to get Windows the way they like it. Mostly this is because the stuff that is enabled by default on a Mac is fairly minimal. You actually have to turn extra stuff on.